Human-Environment Interactions: Sea-Level Rise and Marine Resource Use at Eleanor Betty, an Underwater Maya Salt Work, Belize
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Geography and Anthropology
Dissertation excavations were performed in the spring of 2013 at the underwater site of Eleanor Betty in Paynes Creek National Park, Belize. The marine environment preserved wooden architecture associated with the salt works. Excavation goals included: 1) excavating and defining the boundaries of the submerged shell midden; 2) collecting sediment samples for paleoenvironmental analyses; and 3) recovering cultural remains to determine the site’s purpose (residence versus production workshop).
Four transects were added to the existing transect from excavations performed during the 2011 field season. The shell midden measured 5 meters in length (north-to-south throughout all transects) by 0.5-to-1 meters in width (east-to-west across all transects).
Sediment samples were subjected to loss-on ignition (the burning of sediment to determine the percent of organic matter present) and microscopic identification of sediment to identify the type of organic matter present. Analyses revealed a high organic content coupled with an abundance of Rhizophora mangle (fine red mangrove roots), which keep pace with sea-level rise and fall. Results indicate that Eleanor Betty was built on the cleared red mangrove stands and submerged by sea-level rise.
The shell midden was determined to be a cultural midden as charcoal and archaeological material were recovered throughout all levels of the submerged midden deposit. Approximately 4,733 pieces of shell resulted from the excavations. Of the 4,733 pieces, 3,979 fragments were identified as Crassostrea rhizophora (red mangrove oysters). Microscopic analyses suggest the shell were part of a meal, perhaps a feasting ritual, as evidenced by the break patterns on the shells’ ventral margins. Assessment of height-length ratios for predation indicates the procurement of shells was a one-time event.
An abundance of charcoal (~16,000 grams) and briquetage (~215,000 grams) – pottery used to evaporate brine over fires to make salt, was recovered from the 2013 field excavations. No household items, such as figurine whistles or pottery used for food storage, were recovered. The excavation results indicate that Eleanor Betty was a salt production workshop.
Feathers, Valerie Renae, "Human-Environment Interactions: Sea-Level Rise and Marine Resource Use at Eleanor Betty, an Underwater Maya Salt Work, Belize" (2017). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 4135.